Accountant jailed for siphoning off $1.6m from 2 firms

An accountant who siphoned off $1.6 million from two companies was jailed for seven years and three months yesterday.

Ong Chwee Tee, 58, admitted to 24 charges related to offences committed when he was employed by Witte Far East, a firm in the automotive sector, and later Chris-Marine, which deals in ship engine repair and maintenance.

Ong, who worked at Witte from December 2002 to November 2010, was entrusted with pre-signed cheques and telegraphic transfer (TT) forms by his boss to make payments on behalf of the firm, as his boss travelled often.

But not all the cheques and TT forms were used for legitimate payments, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Joel Chen.

On several occasions, Ong issued cheques to himself, banked into his personal account. He also made telegraphic transfers to his bank account with the pre-signed forms he had been given.

The court heard that Ong printed out amended figures, which he pasted over the figures on the original bank statements.

From January 2006 to October 2010, Ong misappropriated a total of $1.2 million from Witte.

Investigations showed that in October 2010, Witte's headquarters in Germany sent a staff member to check on the Singapore office, as it had detected abnormally high payments to Witte's auditors. It had also received complaints about Witte not paying on time.

The headquarters wanted to find out how the Singapore office had a higher turnover than the German office.

When Ong learnt of the impending visit, he cooked up payment vouchers and invoices stating that payments were made to suppliers, subcontractors and agents, when they were actually paid to himself.

To hide his misappropriation, he also created fake invoices in the name of one PKF Advisory for "professional services" rendered.

After his employment was terminated in early November 2010, he then joined Chris-Marine.

A few months later, after he was made a signatory to Chris-Marine's bank account, Ong devised a scheme to misappropriate company funds by deceiving either of the two directors into signing cheques for his own use.

From January 2013 to May 2014, he deceived the company's directors into signing cheques totalling $419,324, which was used for his own expenses.

The court heard that Ong printed out amended figures, which he pasted over the figures on the original bank statements.

He photocopied the original statements with the amended figures pasted over them and filed the photocopied ones in the company records before shredding the originals. These falsely reflected a higher bank balance than was actually the case.

It was only in May 2014 after Chris-Marine found out about Ong's remand in prison - he had been charged in court over the Witte offences - that it engaged another accountant to look into its accounts and discovered Ong's wrongdoing.

Ong's lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam said he suffered from a persistent depressive disorder.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said he had considered the aggravating factors highlighted by the prosecution such as the large sum involved, how Ong has not returned any of the money and his similar previous conviction.

Referring to Ong's desire to provide for the family as pointed out by Mr Sunil, the judge said what Ong had done had crossed the line into the "dominion of greed".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Accountant jailed for siphoning off $1.6m from 2 firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe